Layar Shifts From Future to Present Tense With Creator Launch

Dutch augmented reality (AR) startup Layar today unveiled its new Creator tool, which is designed to allow publishers of offline print content to quickly and easily integrate AR features in their publications. Creator is designed specifically not to require the use of QR codes or unsightly visual signals or watermarks, something the company found was often cited by publishers as a strike against the usual print-based AR tech.

Layar co-founder and Head of Business Development Claire Boonstra told BetaKit in an interview that the reason Layar saw a need to refocus the company on something other than geo-based overlays of the outside world was because of a miscalculation in how users would respond in the long-term. Specifically, Layar was looking too far ahead, and not paying enough attention to the needs users and print readers have right now.

“After the initial launch of Layar, we really, really quickly grew our user base, to about 1.5 million active users worldwide, but then it stabilized,” she said. “We started to realize that holding your phone up when you’re outside to view augmented reality content on top of a GPS position is not the most natural thing for people to do.”

Boonstra still believes that Layar’s original vision has an important role in the future of tech, but she suggests the kind of place-based AR it pioneered will gain greater purchase once people start actively using solutions like Google’s Project Glass, which puts the interface directly into something they’re already wearing. That should make the process of using this kind of tech much more natural. For now, though, Boonstra points out that people are much more likely to take advantage of AR when comfortably seated, at home or at a stationary location. Hence Creator, which is designed to provide for print what it’s been lacking when compared to its digital equivalents: connectivity and the ability to share content through the web.

By adding computer vision technology that recognizes visual cues included by publishers, Layar is re-focusing on where it thinks it can have the biggest impact on how people currently interact with their world. “We realized that it was really the print industry who would benefit the most from this technology,” Boonstra told us. “Indoor usage, where you sit still, hovering your phone over something is much more natural. Also, we’re really digital people, but we also love print media… reading books, newspapers, print magazines.”

What Boonstra and the Layar team wanted, and what she believes most readers these days want, is a way to “click the magazine,” or other print media source, to do things like Like, comment, share or purchase things directly. Layar is designed to do just that, by making it easy for publishers of any size to create interactive content on static pages via a drag-and-drop interface. Others are trying to provide ways for businesses to capitalize on AR tech to enhance their print materials, including Windsor-based Red Piston, but Layar’s focus on ease of use and down-to-earth, practical applications that make sense in terms of what people want to do with the things they read should appeal even to less experimentally-minded brands and companies.

Another thing that was important to the company was making sure that Layar’s publishing tools aren’t just something that large publishers can afford to implement.  That’s why there’s a range of pricing, from ad-supported free to pay-as-you-go and some all-in bundled options. From now until August 1, the company is also offering the platform free to try.

Layar, which was originally founded in 2009, has attracted considerable funding ($15.6 million total) and garnered a lot of early buzz for its pioneering efforts in mobile device-based AR. But where the startup’s early efforts were mostly glitz and glam tech demos looking for a real-world use case, Creator aims to be a way to help print remain a vibrant, viable medium in the face of digital competition. There’s always the risk that print could run out of steam before Layar’s new tech gains significant traction, but there’s still plenty of appetite for print marketing, and Layar will now be poised to help drive greater connections between what works online and what works off.

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